Ask Dr. Forgiveness

On page 2 of your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you say that forgetting can be unhealthy. It seems to me that forgetting can be a good thing as I move on from the hurtful, unfair situation. Would you please clarify.

There are at least two different meanings to the term “to forget.”  The first one, which I see as unhealthy, is to suppress the knowledge that the other is a danger to you.  It is important to remember that some people are not “on our side.”  The second meaning of the term “to forgive” is to move on, as you say.  So, you can move on from a situation while you see the humanity in the other (as you choose to forgive).  As you see the humanity in the other, it is important to acknowledge the other’s weaknesses if he or she still has a pattern of behavior that is hurtful to you.

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I do not have a lot of built-up anger toward someone who hurt me. Perhaps I am suppressing that anger, but I do not think so. My question: Do I even need to forgive this person if I am not angry?

Forgiveness is a moral virtue and so if you have been wronged, it is good to forgive if you are ready to do so.  From a psychological perspective, it is more imperative to consider forgiving if you are experiencing unhealthy anger (sleep disturbances, irritability in general, general unhappiness).  Forgiveness, in other words, can reduce these symptoms that can compromise your health.

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What is the appeal to the emotion of anger that it can become like an addiction? Can passive or suppressed anger become an addiction, too?

Anger can serve in the short run as a protection.  One is on guard against others’ injustices.  One is ready to defend oneself and loved ones from others’ harm.  Yet, if one is constantly vigilant against threat or perceived threat over a long period of time, then this can be exhausting. Also, the anger can grow in intensity and expression.  A key is to be aware of this so that the anger does not take up residence inside of the one treated unfairly.

Yes, even anger that is not conscious can be addictive.  The person may be rewarded internally for the flow of adrenaline that makes the person feel strong and ready.  The adrenaline flow itself can become addictive so that the person thinks certain thoughts, keeps the muscles tight, and the emotions always ready.  The person’s unconscious anger can be uncovered by focusing on the symptoms of that anger (thoughts, muscle tightness, and so forth).

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If I “accept the pain” in forgiving, as you say, can I always handle this by myself or might I need help from others some of the time?

Let us take a physical analogy.  Suppose you hurt your knee while running.  You probably know when that pain is so strong as to require medical intervention and when it is not.  It is the same with emotional pain.  If it is strong and on-going, then it is good to seek help from others, perhaps a family member or friend if the pain is not very severe.  If it is very severe, it is best to seek professional help, especially from someone who understands forgiveness and knows the forgiveness process.

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